The Conservative Society for Action, a tea party-style group, is backing Richard Young, a retired New York City police sergeant, because it says Saladino (R-Massapequa) is too liberal. Saladino supporters said the group's critique is off base.
"They're saying he's too liberal -- that's baloney," said Jim Ahlers, a member of the Massapequa Tea Party, which he said is solidly behind Saladino.
"If you look at his record, the way he votes, he's very conservative and that's why we support him," Ahlers said of Saladino.
Ahlers cited Saladino's votes for capping property taxes, overturning a saltwater fishing license requirement and partially rolling back a business payroll tax.
Saladino, who is running for a fifth two-year term, faces a surprise challenge from Young. Previously, Saladino's district had been entirely within Nassau County, but it was altered in the decennial redistricting process and now includes a large chunk of Suffolk County. That opened the door for a Suffolk-based candidate -- such as Young, a West Islip resident.
With the backing of the CSA, Young submitted petitions earlier this month to take on Saladino in a Sept. 13 primary. Stephen Flanagan, Young's campaign manager, has said Saladino is not a "solid, straightforward, Reagan-type" Republican.
Flanagan criticized Saladino Monday for accepting campaign contributions from organized labor, sponsoring a bill to require parents to drug test their high school-age children and accepting the endorsement of the liberal Working Families Party in 2010.
"Richard Young is a true conservative," Flanagan said. "Joe Saladino is a moderate conservative."
"The CSA is one group," Ahlers countered. "They do not speak for all the other [tea party] groups."
Flanagan said the CSA doesn't speak for other groups, but he noted that, with about 5,000 members, it is the largest tea party-style group on Long Island.
Another Saladino ally, Patricia Orzano, president of the Massapequa Chamber of Commerce, said the incumbent is "as conservative as you can be" in the Democrat-controlled state Assembly. She noted that the Conservative Party endorsed Saladino.
"In all the years I've known [Saladino], he's been very supportive about keeping taxes low and helping businesses large and small," Orzano said.